Section 3

Using dance for learning


Learning Outcomes

By the end of this section, you will have:
  • explored ways to show how African dance traditions can express society’s needs and values;
  • helped your pupils understand the changing nature of tradition through practical dance;
  • drawn on dance traditions to improve learning and assessment, and develop pupils’ physical well-being.

The arts in general are an integral part of the culture of a people and dance is a very strong and vibrant dimension of many cultures. Dance is part of every aspect of African life. Many forms of dance originating in Africa, although rooted in the past, have changed or have been lost, so encouraging an interest in dance will protect those still in use. This section will help you develop ways of using dance in the classroom. It explores the cultural traditions of dance in Africa, as well as new ways you can use dance across the curriculum.

Page 1

Helping your pupils appreciate the value of studying traditional African dance is an important part of teaching the arts. Learning about the arts is often rooted in stories from the past. Also, ‘the arts’ enable people to express meaning in their everyday lives and help them to develop their sense of identity and self-worth. Case Study 1 and Activity 1 will help you consider with your pupils how traditions change and disappear, and debate whether this is a good or bad thing.

Case Study 1: Investigating the Venda people and the domba

Ms Sylvia Msane teaches at a primary school in Sebokeng, a township south of the Johannesburg city centre in South Africa. Sylvia is married to a man of Zulu origins and they speak English and Isizulu at home. However, her mother’s ancestors are from Venda. Sylvia is concerned that her pupils, like many other young people in South Africa, know very little about their cultural origins. Sylvia thinks of a saying that has been passed down to her: ‘Umuntu ngu muntu nga bantu’ – ‘A person is a person because of other people’. She decides to tell her pupils a story that her grandmother told her when she was a child about the Venda people (see Resource 1: Stories of the Venda drum). After telling them how the Venda people came to live in the northern parts of South Africa, she shows them some traditional Venda clothes and pictures of young women dancing the domba. One pupil asks what the women are doing. Sylvia explains that these women have almost completed their initiation and are dancing in the form of a python. She tells them another story to explain the significance of this snake and they discover how the domba dance celebrates the fertility of young women (see Resource 1). Another pupil asks her if she was initiated in this way and she explains that she wasn’t. People’s lives and priorities have changed and many traditions from the past have died out. They debate whether it is a good or bad thing that this has happened. Resource 2: Local traditions tells you about a different type of drum.

Activity 1: Finding out about an African dance tradition of the past

Find out from your class, colleagues or members of the community if there are any traditional dancers in the area. Ask the head teacher if you can invite the person in. Contact the person and ask them to come and talk to your class about local dances and to demonstrate one or two dances. Ask them to bring the clothes they wear. Prepare your class for the visit (see Key Resource: Using the local community/environment as a resource). Think about questions the pupils may want to ask. On the day, prepare the classroom so there is a space for the visitor to sit and dance and so all the pupils can see. Welcome and introduce the visitor. The visitor talks and dances for perhaps half an hour. Encourage your pupils to ask the visitor questions. After the visit, discuss with your pupils what they have learned about dance. Who liked it? Who would like to do more? Think what you can do next. Maybe the visitor could return to teach them some dances?

Page 2

Dance in the classroom lends itself to cross-curricular work, as you explore the ideas behind dances, the significance of the costumes and learn how to do the dances. Dance is a physical activity and can be done as part of the physical education curriculum or it could be used to explore ideas in other subject areas such as literature and science, for example. In Case Study 2 and Activity 2 dance is used to help pupils show what they know about a topic or tell a story.

Case Study 2: Working in groups to make up a dance sequence

Mrs Agholor has been working with her class on how the brain sends messages around the body. She decides to use this topic in her PE lessons where she is doing a series of lessons on dance. Mrs Agholor tells her pupils that she is going to divide them into groups of between six and ten. Each group has to think of ways to show how a message goes from the brain to a part of the body to tell it to move and other messages come back to the brain to develop or stop the move. She gives them some time to think about this and goes around supporting them as they talk. After 15 minutes, she suggests they think about how to do the dance and start practising. She reminds them that they have to convey their ideas through movement with no words. When they have had time to practise, each group shows what they have done. After each performance, the rest of the class has to guess what is happening and can ask questions. She decides to give them time to develop their ideas and show them to the class the following week, one group at the end of each day. Mrs Agholor notes that everyone has had fun and thinks her pupils now also appreciate the importance of dance as a means of expression and as a way to communicate.

Activity 2: Using dance from the past and present to communicate

Ask each pupil to research a dance that a parent or older relative used to perform or still does. It does not have to be a ‘traditional’ dance. They should find out:
  • Where the dance comes from.
  • Why the dance was performed and what purpose it served.
  • Where it was performed.
  • How it was performed.
Give them time to do this and write out how to do the dance. (See also Key Resource: Researching in the classroom.) Next, using one of your local traditional dances as a base, ask your pupils to list what it is meant to show. Now ask your pupils to make up their own dance using any techniques they like, to show similar ideas. These could be about:
  • reaching adulthood;
  • the birth of a baby;
  • a good harvest.
Give them time to practise and then share their dances. Remind your pupils that they should show their emotions – such as happiness, anxiety, horror, sadness – with their bodies and faces as they dance. Discuss these emotions and give them time to practise again. Share their performances again and discuss how they improved.

Page 3

Dance can be very personal but it also lends itself to group performance and allows your pupils to grow in confidence and self-esteem. This is very important as it can enhance their attitude to learning and their achievements. As a teacher, it is important in a practical situation to be aware of the individuals in a group and their achievements, as well as the collective achievement of the group. Case Study 3 and the Key Activity suggest ways of providing feedback to your pupils that will help them prepare to perform in front of an audience. You will also explore how peers can assess and feed back to each other in order to develop their understanding and improve their work.

Case Study 3: Planning and giving a successful dance performance

Mrs Agholor hears from one of her colleagues that the school is going to have an Open Day at the end of the term. Parents and people from the community will be invited to attend. Mrs Agholor has been impressed by the enthusiasm of her pupils for the dance work they have been doing and decides to help them develop the dances they have created in class into a performance for the Open Day. She encourages them to practise at lunchtime and allocates some time during physical education lessons. A week before the Open Day, they perform for each other and give feedback on the strengths of the dances and ways they could be improved. She uses a series of questions to help them think about and improve their performances (see Resource 3: Refining our dance). They rehearse and perfect their dances. At the Open Day, everybody is amazed at how Mrs Agholor’s pupils have communicated their ideas about how the brain works through their dances. Finally, Mrs Agholor asks her pupils to reflect on the experience; this gives her valuable feedback about the learning process and helps her pupils to think about what they have gained (see Resource 4: Thinking back about dance).

Key Activity: Preparing for a performance

Before the first lesson, read Resources 3 and 4.
  • Explain to your pupils that they are going to perform at the next parents’ evening and that the head teacher is inviting the community to come too.
  • Before you begin, make sure that your pupils are aware of the need to work sensibly. Give them details of how you will stop them while working and remind them that they need to be aware of where their classmates are.
  • Organise the class into groups. Ask each group to plan a dance based around a topic you have been studying. (You could decide this or allow your pupils to vote for one from a list.)
  • Give the groups time to practise.
  • Next, allow each group to perform in front of the class. Encourage your pupils to give each other constructive feedback that will help them improve their performances.
  • Support groups as they think about how to improve and refine their dances so that they are ready for performance in front of an audience.
  • Discuss any props or costumes and prepare these.
  • Make a programme.
  • Do the performance.
  • Discuss how it went together. What they have learned about dance? What have they learned about the topic?

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